Fall Cleaning

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Sounds like I picked a good weekend to get off the Nextel Cup Series beat. I spent the weekend at Illinois' Rockford Speedway and the 39th annual National Short Track Championship, which had more excitement in ten minutes than I witnessed after watching three hours of the TiVo'd Dover race.

But while I was short trackin', the racing world kept moving ahead:

Dover is the latest track to find itself on the endangered list, at least for one of its races. Stories have already begun about the "Monster Mile's" installation of lights in the near future, but with the addition of the newly-announced Pacific Northwest track and the New York facility in the near future, Dover may find itself down to one Cup stop.

Tony Stewart finally came to his senses and called out Robby Gordon, albeit a week late. Stewart was downright pleasant after Robby bulldozed his way through the 20 and 19 cars the week before in New Hampshire. But after another Gordon-Stewart tussle at Dover, the Tony we all know and love was back. "I feel like kicking Robby Gordon's butt to be honest," Stew said after his sixth place finish on Sunday. When told of the decree, Gordon answered "Tell him to come on over. Or, here, give him my phone number and tell him 'Anytime.'

Word is sponsor Cingular saved Gordon's hide for the remainder of the year and that car owner Richard Childress was ready to launch him earlier last week. But his days are definitely numbered in the RCR No. 30 and despite issuing public apologies and holding a Dover media center press conference, you can't take the Robby out of Gordon.

There's lots of hand wringing because of the declining NASCAR television ratings. New Hampshire's audience was down and Dover's will also be smaller than last year, due in no small part to the fact that last year's race aired on NBC while TNT carried last Sunday's race. But believe me folks, no one in Daytona Beach is worried - too much. All the talk about getting NFL-sized numbers isn't reality and the networks know that if they can at least maintain the audience size, things will be just fine. No professional sport in this day and age can grow its TV ratings with the possible exception of the NFL.

"I wonder if we’re not all putting too much into individual race numbers," said Kyle Petty. "True, this is a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ sport but you have to look at things in perspective and in context to take a full measure. My feeling is wait until it’s all said and done, look back and see where we are. See where we are versus last year, where we are versus the year before FOX and NBC came in, and see how other sports are doing with their ratings. That gives you a clear focus."

Everything from professional golf to the NBA loses audience share from year to year. That NASCAR can maintain comparable numbers from season-to-season is still amazing. And ABC/ESPN is building a war chest to come into the picture when the contract expires in two years. If the property were in that bad of shape, new networks wouldn't be circling trying to get a piece. So for all the mediatypes who just love to write and report the demise of NASCAR, don't put too much stock in the television numbers for your end-of-the-world stories.

The Craftsman Truck Series/Champ Car doubleheader at Las Vegas could have been a surprising homerun. As it turned out, it was a double off the wall, thanks to some more dopiness on the Champ Car management front. A crowd of 70,000 turned out for the unique Saturday night twinbill, which featured the trucks as the lead-off event. But when the race ended, rather than lining up the field and taking the green flag as quickly as possible to race in front of what would have been one of its largest crowds of the year, the Champ boys decided to stage a dog and pony show. After a parachute crew landed, driver introductions and other assorted pre-race festivities, the race finally got started, with about half of the 70,000 in the stands. And to make matters worse, a terrible officiating call that took nearly 20 laps of caution to straighten out, ruined a race that ended in a near photo finish. One local wag referred to the series as "Chump Car." Nicely played.

Another blow to the Champ Car circuit will come next year when Patrick Carpentier becomes the latest defector to the IRL. Carpentier will join Cheever Racing in 2005, replacing Alex Barron and leaving Champ Car with one less recognizable name.

Congratulations to late model standout Eddie Hoffman for his win in Sunday's 39th running of the National Short Track Championship at Rockford Speedway. The Chicago area veteran is three for three in the Sunoco Super Series this season and scored his second win in the prestigious Rockford event. Look for the Sunoco Series to continue its recent growth in 2005 with new venues and a possible television contract on the horizon. With the demise of the ASA, the Sunoco group is poised to take the lead as the premier asphalt short track stock car series in the country. Just keep the numbers on the doors guys - please!

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2004

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